A 10 pm arrival on a Saturday night. A well-oiled, sold-out crowd. The echoes of an opening half-hour set from Bo Ningen vocalist Taigen Kawabe’s hip-hop side project still permeating the air. Two years of being hailed as the saviours of British rock music in the rearview mirror. A Mercury-nominated debut album topping recent End Of Year polls. As London’s Black Midi take the stage tonight, a more perfectly primed gig would be hard to find.
In most recognisable entertainment universes, the done thing would be to stuff your hour-long set with your biggest hitters, to revel in your adulatory victory lap. But, as most of us have come to learn, Black Midi are not well-versed in the conventions of Earth humans. What we get tonight is something altogether more exciting.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a long list of bangers for them to call upon anyway; at a push, one might point to ‘bmbmbm’ and ‘Talking Heads’ as their glistening, daytime-optimised pop jewels, but those songs, it barely needs saying, are not played tonight. Instead, we clatter into instant cacophony. Kaidi Akinnibi, a recent, possibly temporary addition to the band on saxophone, channels an immediate hard bop skronk on the opener, a new track by the name of ‘John L’, and barely lets up once for the rest of the set. By the time we are riding high through ‘Speedway’ and ‘953’, you pity the poor state of the man’s bronchioles.
There is a sense of delirium running through everything Black Midi do tonight. When the forefathers first carved rock music out of its raw materials, they didn’t set any limits – there is no Rock Constitution. Why can’t you just take the loose foundations of the tracks that make up your debut album and use them as mere jumping-off points for meditations, freeform rhythmical experiments and freakouts?
Indeed, the studio recorded versions of the tracks on Schlagenheim seem domesticated compared with what Black Midi deliver tonight. It doesn’t seem right for any one particular recording of these tracks to be preserved for prosperity; perhaps they should record dozens of versions of the album, all as wildly different as each of the nights of this tour must have been. The listener would never know what they were going to get when they pressed play, an experience much closer to the essence of the band.
Lead singer Geordie Greep takes a chair for another new one, ‘Jb’, the opening leg of which proves to be a showcase for his intriguing, Billy MacKenzie-like vocals, which offer some counterweight to the frantic intensity of the rest of the band. The track buckles into a deep, Black Country rock groove, causing the crowd’s heads to slam against their neck’s limits. The opening of ‘Western’ gets the one audible cheer of familiarity all night, their most patient, deliberate track, but it too descends into free-noise highs.
The sheer brain-against-skull-rattling volume of Cameron Picton’s bass, the unbridled, knuckle-busting rage of Morgan Simpson’s drums, the great liberating abandon of the band at large and all of the possibilities that they haven’t closed off for themselves. They are now free to move on to their next stage, with the knowledge that they have an audience willing to be led.